Title:
Wet granulation method for generating granules
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A method of wet granulation of fertilizer and other materials into granules. The method involves formation of the granule directly on the pan from the feedstock without intermediate steps or the use of seed materials. The result is a product having a completely uniform cross section. The feedstock is initially in the size distribution of −150 mesh with 90% or greater in the size range of 200 mesh. Moisture is maintained to facilitate a steady process without cycling. The method has the advantage of allowing granulation of materials either known to be hazardous or inherently difficult to granulate in a safe and expedient manner. The process permits the formation of multiple feedstock granules. The initial feedstock may be augmented with a different feedstock in a second pan having a different composition and size from the initial feedstock.



Inventors:
Phinney, Robin (Calgary, CA)
Application Number:
10/252973
Publication Date:
07/24/2003
Filing Date:
09/24/2002
Assignee:
Airborne Industrial Minerals Inc. (Calgary, CA)
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
264/118
International Classes:
B01J2/00; B01J2/14; C05C3/00; C05C11/00; C05D1/02; C05G3/00; (IPC1-7): B29B9/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
STAICOVICI, STEFAN
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
AIRBORNE TECHNOLOGIES INC (CALGARY, AB, CA)
Claims:

I claim:



1. A wet granulation method for granulating a feedstock into granules, comprising the steps of: providing a first feedstock having about 99.9% particle size of −150 mesh of said 99.9% particle size of −150 mesh about 90% comprising a particle size of −200 mesh; providing a binder material having a moisture content; contacting said first feedstock with said binder; forming a pre-moistened mixture of said binder, said first feedstock and said moisture; introducing said pre-moistened mixture onto a pan granulator containing a second feedstock different in composition from said first feedstock; maintaining moisture conditions on said pan where the moisture content on said pan is between 1.5% and 11% by weight; and forming first granules on said pan directly from contact of said pre-moistened mixture and said second feedstock in the absence of said material.

2. The method as set forth in claim 1, wherein said moisture content is between about 1.5% and about 10.5%.

3. The method as set forth in claim 2, wherein said moisture content is about 8%.

4. The method as set forth in claim 1, further including the step of passing said first granules on to a second pan granulator.

5. The method as set forth in claim 1, wherein said feedstock is selected from the group comprising sodium bicarbonate, potassium sulfate, potassium chloride, potassium nitrate, ammonium sulfate and sulfur.

6. The method as set forth in claim 1, wherein said binder comprises about 60% moisture and about 40% solids.

7. The method as set forth in claim 6, wherein between about 7% to about 9% by weight of said binder is added to said pan.

8. The method as set forth in claim 1, wherein said binder is dry, said moisture content comprising water added to said pan.

9. The method as set forth in claim 4, wherein feedstock for said second pan includes between about 20% to about 35% product in the size range of −10 mesh to about 100 mesh.

10. The method as set forth in claim 9, wherein product from said second pan comprises granules in the size range from about −4 mesh to about −8 mesh.

11. The method as set forth in claim 1, further including the step of adding an oil to formed granules for dust control prior to further processing.

12. The method as set forth in claim 11, wherein said oil comprises an oil selected from canola oil, vegetable oil, mineral oil.

13. A wet granulation method for granulating a feedstock into granules, comprising the steps of: providing a first feedstock having about 99.9% particle size of −150 mesh of said 99.9% particle size of −150 mesh about 90% comprising a particle size of −200 mesh; providing a binder material having a moisture content; contacting said first feedstock with said binder; forming a pre-moistened mixture of said binder, said first feedstock and said moisture; introducing said pre-moistened mixture onto a pan granulator containing a second feedstock different in composition and size from said first feedstock in a size distribution of between −35 mesh and +150 mesh; maintaining moisture conditions on said pan where the moisture content on said pan is between 1.5% and 11% by weight; and forming first granules on said pan directly from contact of said pre-moistened mixture and said second feedstock in the absence of said material.

14. A fertilizer granule made in accordance with the process of claim 1.

15. The fertilizer granule as set forth in claim 14, wherein said fertilizer granule comprises ammonium sulfate.

16. The fertilizer granule as set forth in claim 14, wherein said fertilizer granule comprises ammonium nitrate.

17. The fertilizer granule as set forth in claim 14, wherein said fertilizer granule comprises potassium sulfate.

18. The fertilizer granule as set forth in claim 14, wherein said fertilizer granule comprises potassium chloride.

19. The fertilizer as set forth in claim 14, wherein said fertilizer granule comprises sulfur.

20. The fertilizer granule as set forth in claim 14, wherein said granule has a uniform and homogeneous cross-section.

21. The fertilizer granule as set forth in claim 16, wherein said granule has a uniform and homogeneous cross-section.

22. The fertilizer granule as set forth in claim 17, wherein said granule has a uniform and homogeneous cross-section.

23. The fertilizer granule as set forth in claim 18, wherein said granule has a uniform and homogeneous cross-section.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

[0001] This is a continuation-in-part application of U.S. Ser. No. 09/061,343 filed Apr. 17, 1998, pending.

TECHNICAL FIELD

[0002] The present invention relates to a pan granulation method for pan granulating pellets or granules and more particularly, the present invention relates to a wet granulation method for granulating fertilizer and other materials into industrially useful pellets or granules.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0003] One of the greatest limitations existing in the granulation art is centered on the fact that known processes require a seeding agent in order to achieve the proper conditions for material accretion to result in a pellet or granule. By making use of a seed, the resulting granule is adversely affected in two key properties; roundness and cross sectional uniformity. Typically, seeding material is not round and as the precursor particle, the result is irregular initial feedstock accretion which, in turn, forms an out-of-round particle upon which further material accretes. A further detriment from this results in terms of nonuniform particle density.

[0004] Methodology is required for synthesizing a granule in the absence of seed material and which is round, tightly packed with a uniform homogeneous cross section and capable of eliminating hazards associated with fertilizer granule production.

[0005] One of the latest issued patents in the art to which the present invention relates is U.S. Pat. No. 5,460,765, issued to Derdall et al., Oct. 24, 1995. The reference teaches a process for pan granulating a particulate material. Based on the teachings of the Derdall et al. reference, a final particle size distribution that is achievable by practicing the invention is between about −5 mesh to about +10 mesh. In order to initiate the process, the Derdall et al. process is limited to the introduction of a seeding material typically between about 14 mesh and +28 mesh. This is required in order to control the granule growth and as indicated in the Derdall et al. disclosure, seed minimizes mutual agglomeration and results in high yields being obtained. The Derdall et al. reference further indicates that the proper sizing of the seed is fundamental to the operation of the process for granulation in order to have product yields exceed 90%. Reference is made in the disclosure that a seed core in the range of 14 mesh to +35 mesh is required in order to achieve a steady state and maintain uniform size distribution of between 8 mesh to +6 mesh.

[0006] The Derdall et al. process, although a meritorious procedure, did not recognize the limitations of employing a seeding agent or the need for controlling the dust generated during granulation which not only creates an unhealthy environment for workers, but more seriously, results in a potentially explosive environment. This is evident from the teachings of Derdall et al., particularly at column 3, beginning at line 24, wherein it is stated:

[0007] “It may be more difficult to keep the granulation steady or stable with fine seed, such as −35 mesh.”

[0008] The difficulty to which the Derdall et al. disclosure alludes is directed to cycling which is an inherent problem with pan granulation processes. If the size distribution of the seeding agent is not constant, then the process will not stabilize and effectively “cycles” as is known to those skilled in this art. The result of this is that larger formed granules on the pan effectively destroy the smaller particles. This, of course, defeats the purpose of the pan granulation to generate particles.

[0009] Furthermore, at line 36 in column 3, the disclosure indicates that:

[0010] “Fine seed sizes can be used, such as +35 mesh, but a point is reached where over-seeding or nucleation occurs easily and causes the final product yield to drop down.”

[0011] It is also indicated at column 3, beginning at line 45 that:

[0012] “Seed material in the range of 20 mesh is the best single point for each of control and uniformity of product size distribution . . . ”.

[0013] As is known, the larger the mesh numerical value the smaller the micron size of the particle. The following mesh sizes correspond to the stated micron sizes: 1

Approximate
Mesh SizeMicron Size
121680
161190
20840
30590
40420
100149
20074

[0014] Based on the teachings of the Derdall et al. disclosure, mesh sizes greater than +35 cause potential nucleation problems and result in a final product yield to decrease. With the technology disclosed, infra, it has been found that by using a fine powder of between −35 mesh to +150 mesh, that a superior quality product can be formed in high yield and typically in the range of a greater than 90% yield.

[0015] In the present application the size distribution of the nucleating material is between 35 mesh and +150 mesh which corresponds to micron size less than 590 μm and 105 μm, respectively. Nowhere in the prior art is a powdered nucleating agent in this size distribution disclosed for the purpose of forming a uniform granule in the size distribution of −8 to +4 mesh. Advantages have been ascribed to this process and one of the most attractive advantages is that the granule or pellet has an enormous break strength and a uniform cross section. It has been found by practicing the present invention, that break strengths in the range of 1 to 4 kgs or greater have been achieved.

[0016] In the Derdall et al. disclosure, at column 3, beginning at line 33 it is stated:

[0017] “Seed of large size forms granules of very poor strength.”

[0018] If one considers these teachings in light of the size of the nucleating agent provided herein, the admissions made in the Derdall et al. disclosure would clearly go against the appeal of using a seeding agent in the size range as clearly taught by Derdall et al. The instruction in Derdall et al. indicates an ideal seeding agent size is 20 mesh (supra); the instant application uses a powder having a particle size between 75-750% smaller than Derdall et al. and yet achieve very desirable results.

[0019] In Statutory Invention Registration H1070, authored by Harrison et al., Jul. 7, 1992, a method for granulating potash materials is disclosed. The process involves the conversion of particulate potassium sulfate or potassium chloride by agglomeration using a conventional rotary drum granulator, pan granulator or other conventional granulating device.

[0020] In the disclosure of this document, there are no specific teachings regarding the elimination of a seeding agent, feedstock size or other important factors related to process control in order to generate superior quality granules having commercial viability. Further, the process is clearly an agglomeration process. It is known that agglomeration typically involves the aggregation of colloidal particles suspended in a liquid into clusters or flocs. These clusters or flocs have varying degrees of interstices and are loosely bound (Hawley's Condensed Chemical Dictionary, eleventh edition, 1967).

[0021] As a particularly advantageous feature of the present invention, the methodology herein facilitates sulfur granulation. With the effectiveness of air pollution regulations, it has now become necessary to augment the soil with sulfur due to deficiencies. As is generally known in agricultural science, sulfur fertilization increases crop yield and quality and further has an effect on nitrogen processing by plant matter. This processing is, in turn, related to protein synthesis, nitrogen fixation, photosynthesis and disease resistance.

[0022] Wet granulation is inherently complicated, since irregular particle crystallography is inherently difficult to control. Wet powder is not uniform and this leads to non-uniform accretion, over nucleation and eventual breakdown of the process. For these reasons among others, the art has not realized an effective and viable process for wet granulation.

[0023] Boeglin et al. in U.S. Pat. No. 3,853,490, discloses a granulation method for granulating potassium sulfate. The method involves the use of large particle starting material −6 +65 mesh (50%), −200 mesh (10% to 30%) and the remainder comprising −65 +200 mesh. In the disclosure it is stated that the granulation is carried out in conventional granulating equipment, however, there is no discussion concerning process control difficulties associated with pan granulation of the product. It is known from Derdall et al that significant difficulties are encountered in keeping the granulation steady even with seed material in the size range of +35 mesh. The most difficult problem is controlling “cycling” where the larger particles destroy the smaller particles. The Boeglin et al. reference would therefore appear to be directed solely to a drum granulation process where the complications inherent with pan granulation are not encountered.

[0024] In U.S. Pat. No. 3,711,254, issued to McGowan et al., there is discussed a process for granulating potash. The disclosure of the document only provides a cursory teaching of granulation and includes pan and drum granulation within the same process.

[0025] Kurtz, in U.S. Pat. No. 5,322,532, discloses a sodium bicarbonate blast media. The blast media comprises an agglomeration of sodium bicarbonate and sodium sesquicarbonate. The reference does not set forth any details with respect to any other formulation process apart from agglomeration and lacks instruction regarding any other material for augmentation.

[0026] Other patent documents of only marginal relevance include the following U.S. Pat. Nos.: 4,371,481; 4,131,668; 4,264,543; 5,108,481; 3,206,508; 3,206,528; 4,344,747; and, 5,124,104.

[0027] The prior art, when taken singly or collectively, is deficient any clear teachings regarding the preparation of fertilizer, blasting, deodorizer or water softener granules having the following commercial and industrial advantages:

[0028] a) uniform cross section;

[0029] b) tightly packed feedstock;

[0030] c) absence of a seed or crystal core;

[0031] d) increased break strength relative to the prior art;

[0032] e) material homogeneity throughout the granule; and

[0033] f) greater quantity of feedstock material per granule

[0034] There has been a long felt need for granules having these desirable properties and for methodology to effect synthesis of such products; the present invention addresses these needs in an elegant and efficacious manner

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0035] One object of the present invention is to provide an improved method for generating a variety of industrially useful particles or granules, which particles are devoid the drawbacks of the prior art techniques.

[0036] A further object of one embodiment of the present invention is to provide a wet granulation method for granulating a feedstock into granules, comprising the steps of:

[0037] providing a first feedstock having about 99.9% particle size of −150 mesh of said 99.9% particle size of −150 mesh about 90% comprising a particle size of −200 mesh;

[0038] providing a binder material having a moisture content;

[0039] contacting said first feedstock with said binder;

[0040] forming a pre-moistened mixture of said binder, said first feedstock and said moisture;

[0041] introducing said pre-moistened mixture onto a pan granulator containing a second feedstock different in composition from said first feedstock;

[0042] maintaining moisture conditions on said pan where the moisture content on said pan is between 1.5% and 11% by weight; and

[0043] forming first granules on said pan directly from contact of said pre-moistened mixture and said second feedstock in the absence of said material.

[0044] In the present invention, the maintenance of moisture on the pan and in the product substantially prevents dust formation during product synthesis. This is augmented by the addition of oil e.g. mineral, vegetable, seed, synthetic, etc. to the final product. As a further feature, plant nutrients, growth regulators, minerals, time release compositions and suitable bacteria may be included in the granules. In terms of the nutrients, suitable examples include nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium; the growth regulators may be herbicides, pesticides, hormones; the minerals will vary depending on soil and environment conditions, but may include copper, boron and other metals; the time release materials may be selected to release the sulfur only at specific times during the growth cycle of the plant, crop, etc.; bacteria may be selected from a diverse variety depending on the specific requirements of the user. To this end, sulfur oxidizing bacteria may be selected, disease combating bacteria to reduce the vulnerability of the crop etc.

[0045] As another feature of the present invention, the technology can be easily employed in the granulation of pellets/granules used in other fields outside of the agricultural sciences. One such field is the blasting art. In this field, it is well known that sodium bicarbonate is a useful blasting medium in view of the copious benefits associated therewith. The bicarbonate is useful, but the crystals are such that high efficiency in coating removal from a substrate is not entirely practical. The present technology facilitates granulation of the bicarbonate with further crystalline materials to augment the abrasiveness of the granule.

[0046] The important inventive concept of the present invention is the ability to generate particles/granules in the absence of a seeding agent. In this manner, the process can be loosely referred to as a pan nucleation process; the process proceeds generally as crystallization, i.e., a nucleation site accretes the surrounding material. With the present technology, the pan rotation and binder assist in the material accretion around the nucleation site to produce a tightly packed granule with high feedstock content.

[0047] As a further object of one embodiment of the present invention, there is provided a wet granulation method for granulating a feedstock into granules, comprising the steps of:

[0048] providing a first feedstock having about 99.9% particle size of −150 mesh of said 99.9% particle size of −150 mesh about 90% comprising a particle size of −200 mesh;

[0049] providing a binder material having a moisture content;

[0050] contacting said first feedstock with said binder;

[0051] forming a pre-moistened mixture of said binder, said first feedstock and said moisture;

[0052] introducing said pre-moistened mixture onto a pan granulator containing a second feedstock different in composition and size from said first feedstock in a size distribution of between −35 mesh and +150 mesh;

[0053] maintaining moisture conditions on said pan where the moisture content on said pan is between 1.5% and 11% by weight; and

[0054] forming first granules on said pan directly from contact of said pre-moistened mixture and said second feedstock in the absence of said material.

[0055] Having thus described the invention, reference will now be made to the accompanying drawing illustrating preferred embodiments.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0056] FIG. 1 illustrates a schematic representation of the method according to one embodiment of the present invention;

[0057] FIG. 2 is a photograph of a sulfur granule in cross section formulated by practicing the prior art methodology;

[0058] FIG. 3 is a photograph of the sulfur granule of FIG. 2;

[0059] FIG. 4 is a photograph of sulfur granules in cross section formulated by practicing the methodology of one embodiment the present invention;

[0060] FIG. 5 is a photograph of the sulfur granules of FIG. 4;

[0061] FIG. 6 is a photograph of a potassium chloride granules formulated by practicing the methodology of the prior art;

[0062] FIG. 7 is a photograph of red potassium chloride granules in cross section formulated by practicing the prior art methodology;

[0063] FIG. 8 is a photograph of potassium chloride granules in cross section formulated by practicing the methodology of one embodiment of the present invention;

[0064] FIG. 9 is a photograph of a potassium chloride granule illustrated in FIG. 8; and

[0065] FIG. 10 is a photograph of potassium chloride granules containing sulfur and formulated by practicing the methodology of one embodiment of the present invention;

[0066] Similar numerals employed in the text denote similar elements.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENT

[0067] Prior to the explanation of the method, the following table sets forth some general properties of the compounds and materials that may be granulated. 2

TABLE 1
GENERAL PROPERTIES
MELTING
POINTBOILING
COMPOUNDCRYSTALSSOLUBILITY(C)POINT (C)HAZARDS
Ammoniumcolorlesssoluble in 169.6Decomposesmay
Nitrate -water,at 210explode if
NH4NQ3alcohol andconfined
alkaliesand
exposed to
high
temperature
Animoniumbrownishsoluble in 513none
Sulfate -white towater
(NH4) 2SO4gray
Potassiumcolorless orsoluble in 772sublimes atnone
Chloride -whitewater;1500
KClslightly in
alcohol
Potassiumtransparent,soluble in 337decomposesfire/
Nitratecolorless orwater orat 400explosion
white;glycerol;risk upon
KNO3powder orslightlyshock or
crystallinesoluble inheating or
alcoholwhen in
contact
with
organic
materials
Potassiumcolorless orsoluble in1072none
Sulfatewhite hardwater
K2SO4crystois or
powder
Sulfur- Salpha formslightlyalphacombustible
rhombic,soluble inapproxin finely
octahedralalcohol and94.5divided
yellowether,Betaform a
crystals;soluble inapproxfire and
beta formcarbon119explosion
monoclinic.disulfide,risk
prismaticcarbonexists
pale yellowtetrachloride
crystalsand
benzene
Ureawhitesoluble in 132.7Decomposesnone
CO (NH2)2crystals orwater
powderalcohol and
benzene
Sodiumwhite pow-soluble inlosesnone
Bicarbonateder orwatercarbon
NaHCO3crystallinedioxide
lumpsat 270

[0068] Referring now to FIG. 1, shown is an overall schematic representation of the process according to one embodiment.

[0069] In the embodiment shown, the circuit is representative of a ten ton per hour circuit. Reference numeral 10 denotes the introduction of feedstock which may be any suitable single material, numerous examples of which have been indicated supra. It will be appreciated that the feedstock may comprise a variety of materials in a mixture. The technology set forth herein permits the formation of most any granulated product including various sulfates, soda ash, sulfur, potash, kaolin, magnesia, potassium sodium and ammonium chloride inter alia.

[0070] The feed may be introduced at 9.8 tons per hour (9.8 thr-1) along with suitable binder material as set forth herein previously. The feedstock and binder may be then introduced into a pulverizer 12 to pulverize the feedstock such that a product is produced having 99.9% 150 mesh and at least 90% 200 mesh. The pulverizer 12 may be a classifying pulverizer or air sweep pulverizer or any other suitable pulverizer known by those skilled in the art. Once pulverized, the stream, generally represented by numeral 14, is introduced into a sealed collection hopper, globally denoted by numeral 16, which includes a bag house 18 to collect dust. Collection hopper 16 includes suitable valve 20 for metering dust into a collection bin 22. The bin 22 is mounted over two feeders 24 and 26 which divide the material being received from bin 22 into two streams, the first stream being fed by feeder 26 to a wet mixer (not shown) and then to a first large pan granulator 28 at a rate of 7.6 tons per hour (7.6 thr-1), as an example, while feeder 24 feeds a second stream into a paddle or pin mixer (not shown) and then to a second pan granulator 30, being smaller than granulator 28. Each of the pans may contain similar feedstock material or the feedstock may comprise different materials to provide a mixed product.

[0071] The feed rate to the small pan may be 2.8 tons per hour (2.8 thr-1), as an example, to be consistent with a ten ton per hour circuit. The mixers each contain a mixture of binder and feedstock with a moisture content in the range of 4% to about 8% by weight. The material fed from the mixers to the pans is thus wet and this avoids dust formation during processing. The amount of moisture in the binder is a variable factor and is dependent upon the nature of the binder (solid/moisture content). Clearly, high moisture content binders will not require as great an addition (on a percentage by weight basis) to the mixers as the lower moisture content binders.

[0072] Pan 30 is equipped with a small receptacle 32 for retaining 35 mesh dry raw feedstock (not shown). The receptacle 32 is equipped with a variable rate metering apparatus (not shown). The feeder removes the material from the receptacle 32 and introduces the dry raw feedstock into pan 30. As is known in the art, the pan granulators 28 and 30 include upper and lower scrapers 34, 36 and 38, 40, respectively. Regarding the feedstock from receptacle 32, the same is introduced to the pan 30 behind top scraper 38. In this example, the production rate for the pan 30 would be set for 3 tons per hour (3 thr 1) with a size distribution of approximately 80% product between 8 mesh to +20 mesh. It has been found that this is achievable by combining the raw feedstock to the dust at a ratio of, for example, 1:20 to 1:100 parts. The use of an atomizing hot binder solution at any position from the 12 o'clock through to the 5 o'clock position has been found to be particularly useful. When the correct free moisture is attained, generally between 1.5% to about 11%, the first pan stabilizes at a steady state condition. In this manner, granules are formed directly on pan 30 in the absence of a seeding agent.

[0073] As indicated above, the product formed from pan 30 is typically between 50 to 80% 8 mesh. The product is discharged and dried with dryer 39. Dryer 39 may be selected from, for example, Carrier dryers, tray dryers or roto louver type dryers. The product being formed in large pan 28 is additionally transported to dryer 39 via a suitable conveyer, globally denoted by numeral 41.

[0074] Product exiting dryer 39 via stream 42 is then screened by a suitable screening arrangement 44 at 4 mesh, 8 mesh and 20 mesh. The +4 and 20 mesh portions are sent to pulverizer 12 for recycling into the system, the recycling stream being indicated by numeral 46. The 4 to +8 mesh portion is the final product and leaves screen 44, as indicated by numeral 48, as a final finished product. The 8 to +20 mesh portion is sent via stream 50 to a hopper equipped with a weigh belt feeder, broadly denoted by numeral 52. The material is advanced from the weigh belt feeder 52 into pan 28 whereupon the product is further processed by the introduction of binder and additional dust to produce a desired granule product. This is an optional step dependent upon whether further feedstock accretion is desired.

[0075] Any residual dust which may be present in dryer 39 may be passed via line 54 for exiting dryer 39 to hopper 56 and the collected material in hopper 56 either passed onto the bag house 18 via line 58 or passed into the feedstock via line 60. The fines or dust entering bag house 18 may additionally be passed off onto ancillary operations, for example, wet scrubbing, as broadly denoted by numeral 60 in FIG. 1. Other examples will be readily apparent to those skilled in the art.

[0076] The ratio of 8 to +20 mesh product needed to run pan 28 at a steady state has been found to be, for the system described herein, between 1:10 to 2:5, an optimum of 1:5. Pan 28 stabilizes quickly and produces yields of greater than 95% on +8 to 4 mesh. The process yield from the overall circuit as set forth herein exceeds 90%. As discussed briefly herein previously, 10% of the weight, which is in the 20 and +4 mesh size distribution, as well as dryer dusts, can be recycled to enhance the efficiency and productivity of the method to produce maximum yields at very low cost.

[0077] With further reference to the pans 28 and 30, as is known, the pans may be adjusted for angle and rotational speed such that the +8 to 4 mesh granules are only produced. In addition, it has been found advantageous to not only change the horizontal disposition of the pans, but also to laterally tilt the pans to enhance the efficiency of the granulating process. The specific angle of tilt and horizontal angle will be dependent upon the rotational speed and the size of the granule desired to be produced. As a variation, the tilt and/or angular velocity of the pan(s) may be adjusted to produce granules in the size distribution of −10 mesh to about 100 mesh.

[0078] It will be appreciated that the method for operation as discussed can be a single operation or may be incorporated into a unit operation within a series of other operations. This will depend upon the specific needs of the user.

[0079] It will also be readily appreciated that any number of pans can be incorporated into the system to progressively grow or accrete a granule. To this end, the process is interruptible and therefore can be custom designed to produce granules having a variety of layers of material to produce a host of valuable granules. It will be clear to those skilled in the art that the process is effective for producing a number of different forms of fertilizer and has particular utility with respect to the formation of high grade fertilizer for use on golf courses, time release formulae etc.

[0080] In terms of the binder, suitable examples include lignosol, sugars, saturated salts and proteins, water, calcium sulfate, sodium sulfate, potassium chloride, dry gluttens, wheat grains, barley grains, rice grains and calcium phosphate among others. The choice of the binder will depend on the desired characteristics of the granule and accordingly, the aforementioned examples are only exemplary. In the instance where the material to be granulated is dangerous or has the characteristic of having explosive dust, the binder composition may comprise a high moisture content, generally 30% to 60% moisture or greater with the balance comprising solids. It is also contemplated that mixtures of binder material may be employed.

[0081] With respect to the feedstock and binder, where the binder contains a higher moisture content, the use of an atomizer for dispensing moisture on to pans 28 and/or 30 may not be necessary. In a further variation, binder and feedstock material may be added to the pan(s) simultaneously. These process variations will be dependent upon the nature of the material to be pelletized or granulated.

[0082] Referring now to the photographs, FIG. 2 illustrates granulated sulfur pellets with an ammonium sulfate core created by the prior art technique as taught by Derdall et al. The pellets clearly include a sizeable core occupying a large amount of the volume of the particle. It is also evident that the cross section of the particles is nonuniform and in some cases hollow in localized areas.

[0083] FIG. 3 shows whole granulated sulfur pellets synthesized in accordance with the Derdall et al. methodology. As is evident from the figure, the exterior of the granules is loose to provide a grainy surface texture. This lack of consolidation of the material results in the generation of dust which, as indicated supra, creates significant handling problems and in particular, increases the likelihood of a potential explosion.

[0084] In contrast to the above, FIGS. 4 and 5 demonstrate the high quality particles generated by the present methodology. Of particular significance is the fact that the particles/granules are completely devoid of any core or seed, but rather are entirely uniform, continuous and solid throughout. FIG. 5 illustrates the granules in toto. It is readily apparent that the granules have a different surface appearance than those formulated by the prior art; this is further evinced by the lack of dust or grains surrounding the particles. The particles are significantly more consolidated, harder, tightly packed and include a greater amount of feedstock (at least 95% by weight) than the prior art granules. Accordingly, the advantages enumerated herein previously are realized.

[0085] In respect of FIGS. 6 and 7, shown are potassium chloride granules made by the technique set forth by Derdall et al. The Figures illustrate two different forms of the compound and confirm the presence of the seed indicated as a critical factor to the generation of the particles.

[0086] With reference to FIGS. 8 and 10, shown are potassium chloride particles formulated by practicing the methodology of one embodiment of the invention. As illustrated, the particles are substantially spherical, devoid any core and lack the surface graininess of the particles of FIG. 6. The particles illustrated include a sulfur compound.

[0087] FIG. 9 illustrates a sodium bicarbonate granule granulated by practicing the technology set forth herein. Noteworthy is the spherical appearance and consolidation of the particle.

[0088] The inventive technology established herein affords a commercially viable and industrially significant development in the granulation art affording pellet content customization among other features.

[0089] Although embodiments of the invention have been described above, it is not limited thereto and it will be apparent to those skilled in the art that numerous modifications form part of the present invention insofar as they do not depart from the spirit, nature and scope of the claimed and described invention.